Sunday, May 26, 2013

Targeted and selective corruption prosecutions
By Editor
Fri 24 May 2013, 14:00 CAT

Even if they are caught red handed, corrupt elements will not be without arguments to defend themselves.

Even if they are caught red handed, corrupt elements will still not plead guilty to corruption, or bring back what they have stolen and seek forgiveness. They will always find arguments to defend themselves and what they have done. If they cannot reasonably deny that they have stolen, they will resort to arguments like "selective prosecution", "targeted prosecution". But still, they will not admit or acknowledge that they are corrupt or that they stole.

The arguments we are hearing today about some people being targeted for corruption prosecution, being selectively prosecuted for corruption, are not new. These are the same arguments we used to hear when Levy Mwanawasa's government was prosecuting Frederick Chiluba and his tandem of thieves. Chiluba claimed to be a victim of malice and political persecution.

And Chiluba's supporters used to claim that the fight against corruption under which their boss and his associates were being prosecuted was selective and targeted. Chiluba was not a member of the opposition but a trustee of the MMD itself. The party that was in power was his own party. And the man who was president then was his own handpicked candidate. But still, Chiluba cried political persecution. It didn't matter to him and his supporters that the government that was prosecuting him was an MMD one and not one formed out of the opposition.

There was no emphasis being placed on their innocence. Actually, being innocent was not an argument they advanced to justify their claims of persecution. Almost all those who were prosecuted alongside Chiluba were all convicted by the magistrates' courts. And their appeals to the Supreme Court also failed. Some of these cases are still on appeal in the Supreme Court. But still more, they never admitted any wrongdoing and still blame everything on political persecution. Even elements like Richard Sakala, Chiluba's press aide, who was convicted and jailed for three years for corruption, still cries foul and harbours permanent hatred for those who prosecuted him. Today Sakala runs a newspaper whose only discernible preoccupation is to defend the corrupt, defame those who sent him to jail. Bitterness and failure to accept responsibility and the temerity of his actions is what seems to propel him. They are not accepting blame or responsibility for the wrong things they did. They blame everything on others and want to paint those who sent them to jail black.

This is the way corrupt elements conduct themselves and their affairs. They never take responsibility for their own wrongs. And this is why even today we still have arguments of targeted or selective corruption prosecution.

If people have committed crimes, what is it that should be done to them? Should they be allowed to go scot-free because prosecuting them will be selective or targeted prosecutions? It seems all that one needs to do is steal and steal while in government and get into the opposition later and when pursued, cover oneself with a blanket of opposition. And once one is in the opposition, whatever crimes they committed, if pursued, they will cry foul and claim political victimisation, persecution. If this is allowed to stand, then no one will be seen to be fairly prosecuted for corruption. And it doesn't matter whether at the end of the day they are found guilty. Sakala was found guilty and failed to successfully appeal but he still cries foul and political victimisation. Sakala went to jail for corruption but still wants to be treated as if he did nothing wrong.

This is what we see today with Rupiah Banda's team. All of them want to claim political victimisation; they are crying about targeted prosecutions, selective prosecutions.

But they have never come out to show who else is corrupt and is not being prosecuted. If they know someone else who is corrupt or whom they were stealing with who is not being prosecuted, they have a duty to ensure that those people are also arrested and prosecuted. Let them report those corrupt individuals to the police, Anti Corruption Commission or the Drug Enforcement Commission and be state witnesses in their prosecution. If this is not possible, and those involved are ministers or members of parliament, they can complain to the Chief Justice and ask for a tribunal to be set up to probe them under the parliamentary and ministerial code of conduct. But of course there has to be reasonable or prima facie evidence of wrongdoing. It shouldn't be just a mere and unsubstantiated allegation. To get someone convicted for corruption requires solid evidence of wrongdoing - mere suspicion of wrongdoing won't do.

And those claiming to be politically targeted for corruption prosecution shouldn't have much to worry about if there is no evidence of wrongdoing against them. It will be impossible to get them convicted without good evidence connecting them to corruption. If they are taken to court without credible evidence, the case of those prosecuting them will not go beyond the initial stage because they will be found with no case to answer. Judgment has to always be based on evidence. These are criminal cases and the burden of proof is much higher for one to be convicted. It has to be beyond any reasonable doubt that they committed the crime for which they are being prosecuted. If not, they will be found with no case to answer and will be set free.

But this doesn't seem to be what is occupying the minds of those being prosecuted for corruption and their supporters. The impression they are creating is one of being scared of court. They are not comfortable with being prosecuted. But we all know that if one truly believes that they are innocent, the court process gives them an opportunity to clear their names, to have their day in court and shame their prosecutors. So far, this doesn't seem to be the case. There is no case that has been dismissed for lack of merit.

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